So far 155 people have been arrested in Sweden in connection to organised crime gangs using encrypted phones since the hack of the phone network.
In the latest round of convictions this week after the arrests, two top Swedish rappers from Stockholm have been jailed for plotting and kidnapping a rival musician.
The hack of Encrochat has took down the criminal network that operated from Sweden to Spain.
This resulted in exposing the “Varbyn network.”
Details have been revealed in a major trial against organised crime that have received widespread national attention.
Yasin Mahamoud known by his stage name “Yasin” formerly “Yasin the Don” was accused of involvement in the planning of the kidnapping in March 2020.
Haval aka Haval Khalil has received a 2.5-year sentence for his role in the plot.
Prosecutors said Mahmoud was involved in planning the kidnapping but did not take part.
The 23-year-old’s lawyer says an appeal will be filed.
The court heard how he had planned to meet the victim, a young rival rapper, at a recording studio, and then lure him into a car in central Stockholm to “harm his life or health” and blackmail him.
Conspiracy to kidnap
Prosecutors said that Yasin had “received and passed on information and gave orders and instructions” related to the kidnapping.
Yasin — who had previously been convicted of carrying weapons in 2018 — was included in the kidnapping plot when it was already at an advanced stage, the prosecution added.
The initial plot was aborted, but the victim was then kidnapped, beaten and robbed weeks later in April 2020 involving Haval Khalil, who goes by the stage name HAVAL, without Yasin’s involvement.
Haval was jailed for two and half years for aiding and abetting the kidnapping, but also denied the charges.
The Varbyn Network
The convictions are part of a 27-person criminal network involving attempted murder, robbery and extortion, with the combined penalty coming to an imprisonment of 147 years.
The Leader of the network, 33-year-old Chihab Lamouri, received the longest sentence of 17 years and 10 months in jail.
Yasin has over 214,000 Instagram followers and was named Artist of the Year and Hip Hop/RnB Artist of the Year at Sweden’s P3 Gold Awards in March.
His 2020 album 98.01.11 went No. 1 in the Swedish album chart and has been certified platinum by the Swedish Recording Industry Association.
Yasin has several Top 10 singles to his name, including the chart-topping “XO” and “Ge upp igen,” which has over 26 million Spotify streams.
HAVAL also has 82,000-plus Instagram followers, with his music racking up millions of streams.
His biggest song on Spotify, “Kandahar,” has over nine million plays since its February 2020 release as part of his INLOGGAD project.
Meanwhile the leader Chihab The 32-year-old man was singled out as the leader who controlled the Vårbyn network with an iron fist from his home in Spain.
He himself denies the crime and claims that a “Mister K” is the one behind the criminal plans.
However, the prosecutor lined up several pieces of evidence during the trial that started today.
The trial is expected to continue to late summer and it is surrounded by great security, partly because the accused persons are suspected of having large violent capital, and partly because of the ongoing pandemic.
When the trial began in the Stockholm District Court’s security hall on 16 of the 30 accused were present.
The Vårbyn network is described as a criminal network that mainly feeds on drug trafficking and which, according to the indictment, had a large supply of many heavy weapons.
You usually do not get hold of both those who plan the crimes and those who commit them and it is interesting, said chamber prosecutor Anna Stråth in the courtroom that so many from the entire food chain in a gang could be arrested.
“Have described in detail what they plan”
When the French police managed to hack the encryption tool Encrochat, suddenly, among other things, Swedish police could follow in real time when crimes were planned.
The criminals have felt completely safe when they communicated on Encrochat and have therefore described in detail what they plan, says Anna Stråth who believes that this has given a unique insight that may not reappear, as criminals now know that their tools can be hacked.
The charges include crimes committed over a two-month period and in the short period of time there have been explosions, murder plots, violent crimes and kidnappings.
They are extremely criminal.
To make money and gain power, they will do almost anything, says Anna Stråth
By following the defendants’ chats, the police and prosecutors have gained a clear picture of how they believe the criminal network has been structured and the prosecutors describe it as unusually disciplined and well-organized.
At the top, a 32-year-old man living in Spain police claim solely gave orders.
He ruled with an iron fist, he has controlled the others in the network and via Encrochat announced who should do what, and was final say on who said yes and no to those who should be abused or punished in other ways.
No one has ever said against him, he is the sole leader and decides decisions.
According to the preliminary investigation, a few people are close to the 32-year-old leader, either through family ties or because they have proven loyal or useful by, for example, committing or taking on the blame for crime.
The police describe this as the “top” of the network, and several of the people there have in recent years frequently worn safety vests and they have often had encrypted phones.
At level two, there have been four so-called “captains”. Below them has been a third layer consisting of “captains in the field”, one for each area, who has ruled level four, the “soldiers”.
The soldiers have been the ones who commit the offences mainly.
The network is suspected of having handled large amounts of money, drugs and weapons and they have operated in the Stockholm suburbs of Vårby, Vårberg and Alby. Synonymous with the members is that they lack education and legal jobs and completely live on crime.
They have also had access to heavy weapons, including 27 weapons, 8 kilos of explosives and 7 hand grenades have been seized, but the police do not believe that is all but that there may be more weapons that the police have not found.
As a member of the Vårbynätverket, you have had to pay a monthly fee of SEK 3,000.
In one of the chats, it appears that there are 35 people who have to pay every month, which gives SEK 105,000 a month, and which also indicates that there are more people who have at least paid a fee who could not be prosecuted.
According to one of the chats, the money was used for “cars, weapons and people who were released from prison.
Something that the prosecutor has devoted, and will devote, a lot of time to is trying to link the accused to the respective aliases they used in Encrochat.
We have read all the chats from the first to the last word, many times. A lot of work has been put in, says prosecutor Anna Stråth.
As for the suspected leader, the prosecutor considers himself on his feet.
However, he himself has another explanation.
When he got to take part in the prosecutor’s investigation, he suddenly called in for an extra police interrogation.
There he admitted that he has used the alias Mujaheed but that the main user is a person who lived with him in Spain, which he does not want to name but calls “Mister K”, says the chamber prosecutor.
He thus admits that he used the phone but only on occasion and that all the crime that is being discussed is “Mister K”.
However, the prosecutor is convinced that “Mister K” does not exist without him being a fantasy figure invented after the leader saw all the evidence.
Everyone involved denies the crime and has barely wanted to say anything during questioning.
Chihab’s designated leader’s lawyer Filip Rydin says that his client denies the crime and that both he and his client question the prosecutor’s material, if it was actually obtained in a lawful manner.
There was a 15,000-page preliminary investigation that consists of the defendants’ own message to each other in Encrochat.
The prosecutors have described that they read them, each page and several times, to get an idea of how the network is structured.
The review of the chats will be revealed during the trials and they show how the accused are completely unaware that they are monitored electronically, they talk freely about crimes drugs, weapons and violent crimes.
It has also been reported a former pro football player, 24-year-old Ilika Jurkovic, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for crimes including aiding and abetting attempted murder.
Authorites say the convictions have taken out the entire top layer of the Varbyn networks organized crime network,
He is of Serbian decent and on the verge of playing for the Swedish national team s a teen but a injury ended his career and directed him to a slightly different lifestyle.
Jurkovic was sentenced to 11 years in prison for aiding and abetting an assassination attempt, several serious crimes and kidnapping, among others.
The Serb allegedly negotiated the prices of the murders, and in one case paid 1.5 million in Swedish currency for a murder.
Linked to boss
According to the local media, the former youth representative of
Sweden is one of the four “captains” of the mafia boss Chihab Lamouri, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison and who the police say is one of the most dangerous people in Stockholm.
The Swedish public is still in disbelief that a young man who was on the threshold of the senior national team became a mobster, as a turning point mentioned in July 2014 when he tore ligaments in a friendly match, which turned out to be the end of his sports career.
If I had skipped that match, I would surely have become something – said Jurković in an interview, who definitely turned his back on sports in 2017.
Although the media write that he led a double life between 2014 and 2017.
Shot multiple times
Jurković was also accused of murder, but he was acquitted of the charges, so that in 2015 they tried to kill him.
He said in court,
“I was sitting on a bench in the center when a guy approached and started shooting at me with a firearm.
I received six shots in the legs and one in the arm”
Jurkovic lost one of his close friends shortly afterwards.
More precisely, he was killed.
Jurković went through the youth school of one of the best clubs in that part of Europe, AIK, to step into professional football in 2016 when he signed for Vasalund.
A year later, he ended his career.
“I just stopped playing, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t call the agent either. I was focused on other things.
I decided to go to football and that, in the end, cost me.”
In Sweden there has been about 90 investigations started as a result of the cooperation through Euroj-ust and Europol, many of them regarding murder and attempted murder or conspiracy to murder.
So far, about 230 suspects have been detained and there have been convictions in 15 cases with punishment of up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Goods seized included about 50 firearms, explosives and several hand grenades, 1 300 kg of narcotics and EUR 53 000 in cash.
Several court proceedings are expected to take place during 2021.
In one of the largest law enforcement busts ever, European police and crime agencies hacked an encrypted communications platform used by thousands of criminals and drug traffickers.
By infiltrating the platform, Encrochat, police across Europe gained access to a hundred million encrypted messages.
In the UK, those messages helped officials arrest 746 suspects, seize £54 million (about $67 million) and confiscate 77 firearms and two tonnes of Class A and B drugs, the National Crime Agency (NCA) reported.
Police also made arrests in France, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
Encrochat promised highly secure phones that were essentially modified Android devices.
The company installed its own encrypted messaging platform, removed the GPS, camera and microphone functions and offered features like the ability to wipe the device with a PIN.
The phones could make VOIP calls and send texts, but they did little else.
They ran two operating systems, one of which appeared normal to evade suspicion.
Encrochat used a subscription model, which cost thousands of dollars per year, and users seemed to think that it was foolproof.
During 2020, prosecutors from across the European Union and beyond turned to Eurojust for assistance in nearly 8 800 cross-border criminal investigations, an increase of 13% compared with 2019 in terms of total.
About half 4 200 were new cases opened during 2020, in spite of the challenging circumstances imposed by the many measures introduced as of March to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The other nearly 4 600 cases were ongoing from previous years, reflecting a growing level of complexity in cross-border criminal investigations, which increasingly last more than one year.
This confirms a recent trend of cases referred to Eurojust becoming more and more complex and requiring support over longer periods.
From the time of the outbreak of the pandemic, Eurojust opened 3 240 new cases, including 164 directly related to the COVID-19 crisis. During the same period, Eurojust organised 286 coordination meetings (of which 232 were held via video-conference), 14 coordination centres and supported the establishment of 58 new joint investigation teams.
In some of these cases, Member States asked Eurojust’s support in specific COVID-19-related offences such as fraud related to the selling of face masks. In other cases, Eurojust has intervened to facilitate the execution of judicial cooperation instruments, such as European Arrest Warrants (EAWs) and European Investigation Orders (EIOs), impacted by the application of the COVID-19-related measures.
The intensive judicial cooperation through Eurojust made it possible to progressively extend the information sharing towards other countries concerned by the criminal activities discovered through EncroChat.
The case has grown to include 13 countries, triggering a multitude of new investigations at national level and with a cross-border dimension.
A total of 9 coordination meetings were organised to bring all involved parties together in a secure environment, identify parallel or linked investigations, decide on the most suitable framework for cooperation and solve potential conflicts of jurisdiction.
Nearly 170 European Investigation Orders (EIOs) have been facilitated through the French Desk at Eurojust.
In recent years, European countries have been increasingly affected by organised crime groups (OCGs) that are pervasive and highly adaptive, posing one of the most pressing security challenges faced by law enforcement and judicial authorities. In this regard, the abuse of encrypted communication technologies is a key facilitator of their criminal activities.
Since 2017, the French Gendarmerie and judicial authorities had been investigating phones that used EncroChat, after discovering that the phones were regularly found in operations against OCGs and that the company was operating from servers in France.
Eventually, it was possible to put a technical device in place to go beyond the encryption technique and have access to the users’ correspondence.
In early 2020, EncroChat was one of the largest providers of encrypted
digital communication, with a very high share of users presumably engaged in criminal activity.
User hotspots were particularly present in source and destination countries for the cocaine and cannabis trades, as well as in money laundering centres.
Given the widespread use of the encrypted telephone solution by EncroChat among international criminal networks around the world, French authorities decided to open a case at Eurojust towards the Netherlands in 2019.
Further developments in the investigations led to organising the processing of the data, which was captured on the basis of the provisions of French law and with judicial authorisation, through the frameworks for international judicial and law enforcement cooperation.
Some of this information was also immediately relevant in ongoing criminal investigations, resulting in the immediate disruption of ongoing criminal activities including violent attacks, corruption, attempted murders and large-scale drug transports.
The interception of EncroChat messages came to an end on 13 June 2020, when the company realised that a public authority had penetrated the platform.
EncroChat then sent a warning to all its users with the advice to immediately throw away the phones.
Please check out YouTube playlist on all the latest encrochat news.
Article by Dougie Allen